Dedicating yourself to on-the-job renewal and inspiration is a continuous process, and sometimes you need a boost to get started. Read on if you’re looking for strategies you can apply right now to empower yourself in the face of burnout.
Strategy #1: Get Clear on Facts versus Stories
One of the most significant shifts you can make is to start recognizing when you’re reacting to stories versus evaluating facts. “My boss is a jerk” is a story that disempowers you from taking action, versus “my boss assigned me three action items this morning and gave me only until the end of the day to complete them” is a fact you can work with. The first approach keeps you in a cycle of victimhood and resentment, whereas the second approach pinpoints a specific thing you can advocate for. “Stop being such a jerk” is a meeting without results. “Please give me at least two days lead time for all action items” is a meeting that creates real changes for you.
Strategy #2: Recognize your Warning Signs
Awareness is one of our most powerful weapons, but it’s something we’re trained to stuff way, way down and layer over with all of the small needs of the moment. I remember coming home from work one day and tripping over my cat. Before I knew it I’d launched into a tirade against him (being a cat, he just looked back at me coolly and without remorse). Somewhere in the middle of my verbal rampage a thought popped up from the depths of my brain, “you must be really overstressed if you’re yelling at Murphy, who did nothing wrong and who is consistently one of your favorite beings on the planet.” I took a step back, breathed deeply, and realized I’d been running on fumes for the past week: not getting enough sleep, not taking time for real meals, skipping yoga and the gym, overstretching myself on tasks and deadlines, not asking for help, and letting negative thoughts on my productivity and worth as a human being take over my whole brain.
What’s your version of this? Maybe you find yourself screaming at red lights, or crying in your car because someone looked at you funny, or snapping at the grocery store clerk. Whatever it is for you become aware of it so you can notice it when it pops up in your life. When you find yourself overreacting to everyday circumstances, events, or hiccups in a plan, take a step back and a deep breath. Then go back to Strategy #1. Let the stories dissolve and ask yourself, what are the facts? What are the deadlines? What’s urgent and what’s not? Is there anything you can take off of your plate, delegate, or even drop?
Being aware of when you’re reaching your limit will help you know when to take a step back, stop pushing forward blindly, and create some new space for your needs.
Strategy #3: A Week of Reflection
When creating change in your life, the first thing you want to do is to make distinctions. The more fine-grained the distinction, the easier it is to act in a way that’s beneficial for you. Many of us walk around saying, “my job sucks,” but odds are there are things about your job that light you up. This strategy involves noting down the bright spots of your job and distinguishing them from the rest of the “stuff.”
For one week, carry a journal or have your “notes” app handy, and write down every time you feel alive, excited, inspired, and renewed. Include as much context as possible: what are you doing? Who are you with? Where are you located? After a week of taking these notes, reflect on them to see if you can discern any patterns. Maybe you realize the common theme is that you’re lit up when leading people, or you get to work independently on a project you like, or you’re interacting with clients as a guide or mentor. Your moments of joy will be reflective of your deepest values. Notice when these arise, and start thinking about how you can create more of these moments in your job.
Strategy #4: Declare your Strengths
The next step after completing strategy #3 is to do something about it! Research shows that spending just 20% of your worktime on projects or tasks that you love will significantly reduce burnout.
There is no shame, none at all, in playing to your strengths. In Nine Lies About Work, Marcus Buckingham and Ashley Goodall show how the best leaders aren’t well-rounded but “spiky,” which means that they focus on developing their strengths over improving their weaknesses. Playing to our strengths not only makes you happier, it’s also a bonus for your team and company because it makes you more productive and creates more dramatic growth curves. Once you have a clear idea of the types of projects, tasks, roles, and initiatives that light you up, go advocate for yourself! Talk to your team leader, boss, and colleagues about taking on tasks or stepping into a role that suits you. If you’re worried about looking selfish or graspy, I encourage you to let that go. Doing what’s best for you is ultimately doing what’s best for the company, and if other people are challenged by your self-advocacy just remember to have compassion and encourage them to take their own stands. You can even direct them to this list for some ideas on how to get started!
Strategy #5: Pay Yourself First
When reading the bestselling book Rich Dad, Poor Dad, I came across a challenging concept: pay yourself first. The author of the book, Robert Kiyosaki, suggested that in order to get ahead financially you should always pay your asset column before your expenses, with the goal of having your assets generating enough income to pay off your expenses. His thinking was that if he doesn’t pay himself, there’s no one to hold him accountable, whereas if he relies on his assets to pay his expenses, he will have people clamoring to make sure he gets it done.
This mindset takes a lot of courage to step into because it holds your feet to the fire, but it also creates a sustainable way of living.
I loved this idea and adopted it as a self-care strategy. So often we see people saying, “I’ll go to the gym/take a vacation/cook myself a nice meal/spend time with my partner” after all of their work is done, which means they’re spending all of their time on obligations and stuffing the truly life-giving aspects of their life into the small corners that are left. If you always “pay yourself first,” and by that I mean make non-negotiable time to meet your needs as a whole human being, you will always know those needs will be met, and the rest of your life gets a whole lot more enjoyable. It doesn’t mean you don’t meet your obligations, (just like Kiyosaki wasn’t advocating that you blow off your expenses), it just means you meet them more efficiently and with less fuss. This mindset causes you to be efficient, judicious, and discerning in how you spend your work time. I’ve discovered I can get more done in a focused 30-minutes than I ever thought possible, and if my other needs are met I no longer feel stressed or resentful about it. I encourage you to add one life-giving thing to your plate this week, make it non-negotiable, and see how instantaneously the rest of your life curves to fit your new commitment.
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